If you have bipolar disorder, then you’ve likely heard a few comments along the lines of “but you don’t seem bipolar.” Most frequently, in my own life, I’ve heard it while getting to know a new romantic interest or when I “come out of the bipolar closet” to a newly close friend.
It’s hard not to be offended. Initially, all I could feel was invalidated, doubted, insulted or a mixture of all three. After all, the first thing that popped into my head was to say, “OK, so what does bipolar ‘seem’ to be? How exactly does one ‘seem’ bipolar?” I never actually said it, but there’s approximately a 150 percent chance that my face said it for me.
Often, the person saying you or I don’t seem like someone with bipolar disorder simply doesn’t have much experience with the condition. It’s been explained to me that they thought bipolar disorder meant moody, angry, violent or constantly on the edge of suicide. Without a doubt, a person with bipolar disorder may be those things, but so may anyone else.
That’s the part that excites me now when I’m told my condition isn’t obvious: getting to explain how, for the most part, we’re like anyone else. I have the opportunity to explain how each one of us is different and how the majority of us may walk right by on the street and you’d never know we have bipolar disorder.
I now understand that while the invalidation and implied judgment can still sting, it can also be viewed as a perfect opportunity. On some level, it could still be seen as an insult, but on the flip side, there’s a hidden compliment: You’re a positive reflection of bipolar disorder, someone with the potential to change the stigma.
So get out there and show the world what it is to “seem bipolar.”
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
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